Earlier this year, three Kenyan teachers won places at the Pan-African Literacy for All Conference 2015 thanks to competitions sponsored by Oxford University Press. Salyne Nyongesa, teacher at St Anthony Boy’s High School in Kitale, Pete Ombwogor, Principal at St Joseph Boys’ National School in Kitale, and Habiba Mohamed Shuria, Head Teacher of the Catholic Integrated Primary School in Wajir, describe their experience of the conference, and outlined what they will take away with them.
How did you get your place at the conference?
Salyne: I was named Secondary Teacher of the year. There was a series of contests that was open to all teachers where you go through a series of interviews.
Peter: For the Secondary Principal of the Year Competition, there were stages at county, regional, and national level, including face-to-face interviews, a timed presentation, and an interview with a group of panelists. There was also an inspection at my school. It was a really thorough process.
Habiba: For the Most Child-Friendly School competition, there is a monitoring tool which looks at teachers, parents, and students. The assessment is then brought to the Ministry of Education and highest scoring schools in each county then had an interview. At the end of this year’s Head Teacher’s Conference, the winner was announced.
What did securing a place at the conference mean to you?
Habiba: When I got the letter and read the word “literacy”, I was excited because that’s what I do at primary school. When it comes to primary teaching, we teach across all subjects, and focusing on literacy is a great opportunity to learn.
Peter: I have never been to South Africa – this is my first time. I looked at the title and saw that it is an informative conference on literacy. I began asking myself lots of questions about what would be happening here.
Were there any particular sessions that you enjoyed?
Salyne: I was impressed with a session on getting teaching professionals to read. If highlighted that if teachers don’t read, they won’t be able to motivate their children to read, so it is very important to focus on teachers.
Peter: One of the sessions talked about cognitive development in children. It highlighted that our brains do not develop in the same way – everyone is different and has different abilities, so we need to consider that in our teaching.
What have you learned about literacy and learning?
Peter It has opened up my mind that we must treat each child as an individual and find different ways of approaching them in accordance with their individual needs. It has also highlighted that we often think about reading in terms of evaluation and grading – but we really need to focus on reading for pleasure.
Salyne: It’s made me think about technology. Many teachers fear technology and they don’t want to touch a computer, but the world is changing. Other people are using technology, and it is getting better and better, so as teachers we need to get ahead with it.
Habiba: We need to change the attitude of teachers to get them to read – so that we can instill a love of reading in children. In my region, 90 per cent of parents cannot read and write. We need an attitude change so that we can develop a reading culture.
How will attending the conference change what you do in Kenya?
Salyne: As a profession we need to do more reading. I love reading but we don’t do that much. I want to go and motivate my colleagues to start a reading club – to be a role model for students and teachers.
Peter : I want to try and establish a reading laboratory, and also to create time within the school routine where teachers can read for pleasure and not necessarily for exams. As a community we have poor reading habits and I hope that we can get teachers to start to change that.
Habiba: We need to develop a reading culture, but nobody can work alone. We need one another to learn from each other – to bring in a holistic approach, so I want to talk to other teachers in Kenya about how we can integrate this learning into the Child Friendly Learning approach.
The competitions that provided places for these teachers were run in conjunction with the Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (KEPSHA), the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Teachers Service Commission, and the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association.
In line with its commitment to education across Africa, in September 2015 Oxford University Press proudly sponsored the Pan African Reading for All and Reading Association of South Africa Literacy Conference. This article is part of a collection of insights from conference and reflections from delegates. To find out more about the event, go to www.rasa2015.co.za